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MapQuest Bug Out Exercise
© 2006

Route Planning Exercise in Map Reading and Analysis

P-P-P-P-P-P: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. What's that mean?

It means that by properly foreseeing all the possible hazardous conditions you may face, you are prepared with OPTIONS to use to counter the problem ... and get on with living.

One of the basic premises of Survival Planning is the establishment of a safe evacuation shelter (of your choice of location, design, or style) outside of your normal living area. If you don't have to use it for emergencies, you can use it for a vacation area. It doesn't matter where it is as long as it is a SAFE area, away from danger.

To help me prove a point, I have selected a typical mid-western city (Des Moines, Iowa) as the setting for a hypothetical disaster that will force the evacuation of the city.


You, John and Jane Q. Citizen, live within 1/2 mile of the disaster site. It is summertime with the constant threat of afternoon and evening thunderstorms. Temperature is in the 80's to 90's during the day, lower slightly at night. The prevailing wind in the area is from the west at 10 miles per hour, occasionally gusting to 15 miles per hour. You live at 1234 Plum Drive (which is a real street) in the suburb of Rider, in the northwestern corner of the city.


My "Disaster de Jour" will be a Biological Weapons Attack by mid-eastern crazies, centered in Urbandale, at the intersection of 186th Street and Douglas Avenue. This group hates golf courses. City and Federal Disaster officials say that there will be an evacuation of a radius of 10 miles from this intersection, and that the biological threat could last as long as 90 days, or until further notified. You live too close to the epicenter and


I have never been to Des Moines, Iowa, so I'm going to lead you through a route of travel from the Plum Drive address to a Shelter Area I feel you might have set up in the town of Dawson, Iowa. By road, it is about 30-1/2 miles, or about a 45 minute driving time with normal traffic. STUDY THE MAPS. IF YOU LIVE THERE, DRIVE THE ROUTE YOURSELF.

I can predict problem areas just by looking at maps. So can you. Driving the route will show you more problem areas, and maybe areas of safety that don't show up on the maps. No map will show you the location of gas stations, mark them on the maps yourselves. No map shows grocery stores, mark them too. Are there areas that are dangerous but only the local residents know about them? Find out.

Only by asking questions will you find answers. There are NO dumb questions, only dumb answers.

Your OPTIONS, including alternate routes of travel, must be readily available to you without having to stop and study a map. You don't necessarily have to write them all down, but it wouldn't hurt (a year from now). My memory isn't what it used to be, how about yours?

Since you are reading this article on a computer, you have MapQuest available. To locate our starting point on the map and take the scale down as small as it can go, use MapQuest to find Plum Drive as shown in the smaller map at the bottom.
Go on, I'll wait. MAPQUEST MAP of Plum Drive (Opens in new window)

Now, keep using the small scale and click on the edges of the map to follow Highway 141 north out of Des Moines. Try and find as many "potential obstacles" as you can. Use Murphy's Law as your guide:
"Whatever can go wrong ... will go wrong."

Follow me along our route of travel. I'll point out what I see ... and you can see if you can find something I missed. Let's go.

Using the pre-planned bug out route (box, below), identify all the problem areas you find, then check your list with mine on the next page. I listed 22 potential problems witb this route. All along the route, check out OPTIONS if the route is suddenly blocked to all traffic. You MUST get out of the 10 mile circle IN A HURRY. I hope you have enough gas.


From Rider, go North on Highway 141 and continue to follow it all the way to Road P-46, turning north into Dawson.



Found by studying MapQuest Maps ONLY



As seen on MapQuest Maps. Use actual

mileage if you drive the route.


Construction of Bridges are



1. Bridge over Little Beaver Creek, Highway 141

Between NW 78th Ave. and NW 82nd Avenue

Concrete construction Strong

2. Bridge over Beaver Creek

North of NW Towner Drive

Concrete construction Strong

3. Bridge over unnamed Creek

Between NW 142nd Street and Xavier Avenue, Granger, Iowa

Small concrete bridge

Older bridge

4. Bridge over unnamed Creek (feeds Beaver Creek)

Between Wendover Avenue and 180th Street, Granger, Iowa

Concrete construction

Older bridge

5. Bridge over unnamed Creek,

Between 2 exits for 180th Street, Granger

Concrete construction

Older bridge

6. Bridge over unnamed Creek

At exit for "V" Avenue

Concrete construction

Older bridge

7. Bridge over unnamed Creek

At exit for 170th Street


Concrete construction

Older bridge

8. Bridge over unnamed Creek

Between 170th Street and 180th Street, but near to 180th Street

Concrete construction

Older bridge

9. Bridge over unnamed Creek

Between "T" Avenue exit and 150th Street, Moran, Iowa

Concrete construction

Older bridge

10. Bridge over unnamed Creek

Between "T" Avenue exit and 140th Street, where Highway 141 turns westward

Concrete construction

Older bridge

11. Bridge over unnamed Creek

Between "S" Street and "R" Street but nearer to "S" Street and unnamed road

Concrete construction

Older bridge

12. Bridge over Little Beaver Creek

Between exits for Quinlan Ave, Gardner, Iowa

Concrete construction

Older bridge

13. Bridge over Beaver Creek

Between Odessa Place and "O" Avenue

Concrete construction

Older bridge

14. Bridge over unnamed Creek

At interchange of Highway 141 and US 169

Concrete construction

Older bridge

15. Bridge over Chicago and Northwestern Railroad tracks

Between 8th Street and 5th Street, Perry, Iowa

Concrete Bri Concrete construction

bridge ... older

16. Bridge over Frog Creek

Between Interchange for Highway 141 and 144, and Ivy Place, Perry, Iowa

Concrete Bri Concrete construction

bridge ... new

17. Road Narrows from 4 lane to 2 lane

Just past Ivy Place, Perry, Iowa

Concrete construction

Older bridge

18. Large Bridge over Raccoon River

Between "I" Court and Hull Avenue, Perry, Iowa

Concrete and Steel Bridge

19. Bridge over unnamed Creek

Between 142nd Place and Green Drive, Near Perry Municipal Airport

Airport Traffic?

20. Bridge over Bucks Branch Creek

Between Perry Airport and "F" Avenue, Perry, Iowa

Concrete Bridge ... older

21. Bridge over Bucks Branch Creek

Between "E" Avenue and "D" Avenue, Dawson, Iowa,

also known as Route P-46

Take "D" Avenue NORTH to Shelter

22. Railroad Tracks

In Dawson, Iowa

Possible Hazardous Material on Trains


22 total obstacles noted from using Map Quest maps only. A personal survey of the area will probably point out many more not seen on the map.

During times of torrential rains, all creeks and rivers may overflow making bridges unusable.

Railroad bridges are not usually susceptible to flooding, but derailments are a potential hazard that would close over-passes.

If you found more than the 22 potential obstacles that I found, good for you. You are taking this whole thing seriously and have keener eyes than I do.

The "ideal" next step would be to get in your car and actually drive the route to see if what the map shows accurately represents the route I picked out. It is ENTIRELY POSSIBLE that the route I picked out is NOT A GOOD ROUTE, for any number of reasons. Road construction immediately comes to mind, as well as a number of other reasons that there would be a BETTER ROUTE, even if it is slightly longer.


I've divided up the entire route of travel into 6 segments, with an attached map for each segment. Follow me along as we examine OPTIONS, both good and bad:

SEGMENT ONE: Leaving Home

Segment 1: Maybe the hardest section of the entire route. Living close to the I-35 Loop around Des Moines has disadvantages too. In an evacuation, just getting out of your street into the flow of traffic will be very hard unless some kindly driver lets you in. Heading North on Route 141 you immediately encounter the traffic interchange for I-35. Law enforcement may (or may not) allow you to follow Route 141 out of your city. They may try to force you onto I-35 which may be now one-way traffic for ALL the lanes out of the city. However, since our scenario centers the disaster in Urbandale, they will probably let you continue on Route 141.
If they don't, what are your OPTIONS: Back to the map:
Option A. Drive South on Route 141 (if drivers let you into traffic) and then turn West onto Meredith Drive. Your entire route of evacuation has now changed completely.
Option B. Follow the cops instructions and follow traffic, getting off in the direction you really need to go, whenever the opportunity presents itself. For RogueTurtle, this is too "iffy" and I prefer my own pre-planned routes, no matter what.
Option C. The cops do not prevent your traveling on Route 141 and you pass through this traffic nightmare with some delay, but not a lot. For the sake of speed, we'll assume that Option C is the one that actually happens.
DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH FUEL? Where are the gas stations located? Find out.


Segment 2. From the intersection of Route 141 and I-35 to the intersection of 70th Ave West and Route 141. Near the town of Grimes, Iowa.
If you need fuel, is fuel available in or around Grimes? The map will not tell you, you have to find it for yourself.
Looking at the map (only), I see 4 roads that enter onto Route 141 along this 2-1/2 mile segment. At any point along the route, traffic accidents or other obstacles could block your path. You have to be able to QUICKLY make a decision as to what route of travel you should take if you are forced off your pre-planned route. What are the OPTIONS? Quickly, please:
Option A (For segment 2): At NW 54th Street, exit West to NW 128th Street, then north into Grimes, Iowa, rejoining your pre-planned route, using NW 70th Ave.
Option B: At NW 62nd Street, exit West to NW 128th Street, then north into Grimes, Iowa and follow the route in Option A.
Option C. At NW 1st Street (Grimes, Iowa) exit west into town. Grimes Iowa is still within the 10 mile radius of danger from our scenario. Do not linger in Grimes. Follow optional routes out of Grimes back to your original route of travel. Follow MapQuest to find another route.
Option D. No problems on your route of travel, you do not need fuel now. We'll continue on with Option D.



Segment 3: From the Intersection of Route 141 to Exit 148, the intersection of Highway 141 and Highway 415.
CAUTION: Highway 415 goes Eastbound, across Saylorville Reservoir, into Polk City. This is a fairly large bridge and RT likes to avoid large bridges that are NOT on my route of travel. On the plus side, the reservoir is a good source of water (that still must be decontaminated prior to cooking or drinking).
CAUTION: Camp Dodge is the Iowa National Guard State Area Command (STARC) Armory Complex that houses the Iowa National Guard Headquarters, eight Iowa Army National Guard Units, the State Of Iowa's Emergency Operations Center, a Department of Public Safety Communications Center, and the Iowa Communications Network Control Center. During crisis times, the Governor will activate the State National Guard...and Camp Dodge is the place they will assemble and move out to the areas needing assistance. In this case, it will be the reverse of the route of travel you have just completed. Convoys departing Camp Dodge will have the right-of-way until they pass. Expect delays.
OPTIONS: You get the idea, always have an escape route back to your original route.
Let's assume that the Army Guard uses another route for their convoys, all the bridges crossing the creeks are OK, and that you still have enough gas.


In this scenario, Camp Dodge is within the 10 mile danger circle from Ground Zero. This could mean that the entire base, men, women and equipment would have to evacuate also. Since we are assuming that the wind direction is from the west at 10 miles per hour, gusting to 15 miles per hour, their route of travel may be the SAME as your route. Now you have a problem. The military will NOT like it if you try to crowd into their convoys. Expect even longer delays if the Army National Guard decides to travel along your route of travel.


Segment 4: From Exit 148 to 140th Street (where Highway 141 turns westward). Once you are past the town of Granger, you are outside the 10 mile danger zone around Urbandale, IA. You can breathe a little easier. How's your gas? If you had a long delay waiting for the National Guard to get moving, you are probably a little low by now.
The first town you pass outside the danger zone is Granger and its vicinity. Does it have fuel available? It's possible that the town of Granger, close to the danger zone, evacuated's also likely that everyone else on this route will stop there too, if they are low on fuel.
Looking closely at MapQuest, you will see the small town of Woodward, that is just north of the westward turn of Highway 141, off Route 210. Does Woodward have a gas station that will be open to refuel? Does it have a public storage facility that you could get in to for your pre-stored and pre-positioned provisions? Did you even look?
Driving your escape route is the only way to be sure. Businesses may or may not still be in business if all you do is look in the phone book. There may be road construction along your route that doesn't show up on any map. More delays.
Between Granger and Woodward, the small town of Moran may ... or may not ... have fuel available. It doesn't take a whole lot of big cars filling up to empty a small stations' fuel tanks. "Sorry, the fuel truck is due next Monday"...

TOTAL DISTANCE TRAVELED: 14-1/6 MILES. You are not even half way there yet.


Segment 5: From the westward turn of Highway 141 to the intersection of US Highway 169. Normally, traffic on a US Highway will have priority over State roads, but not always. This may be a very busy intersection during an emergency. However, this is not my major point of concern along this 6-1/4 mile stretch. Look at the arrow I place about midway along this route segment. Now look above it and look at all the little creeks feeding Little Beaver Creek and then flowing into Beaver Creek. This much water collection area tells me that at some time during the rainy season this area is prone to flooding. RT has never driven this route, and have only been in Iowa one time. However, if Iowa is anything like Indiana, seasonal flooding is to be expected in terrain such as this. This area may be a watershed. The simple definition of a watershed is the area of land that catches rain and snow and drains or seeps into a marsh, stream, river, lake or groundwater. Just as creeks drain into rivers, watersheds are nearly always part of a larger watershed. Further research shows that this area is highly susceptible to flooding during heavy rains are during times of spring snowmelt. There was a disastrous flood in 1993, and lesser occurrences in 1960, 1966, 1972, 1974, 1979, 1986, and 1990. As cities and towns develop, less land is available to absorb water and the runoff forces creek levels higher and higher.

TOTAL DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR: Approximately 20-1/2 miles. How's your fuel?


Segment 6. Last leg of the journey. Along this 10 mile stretch you will pass by the town of Perry and the Perry Municipal Airport. There may be traffic in and out of the airport, but it is a small airport and most larger jets will go elsewhere. Is there fuel available in Perry? Is there a large grocery store to stock up on last minute items?

Dawson, your destination, sits adjacent to (on the south-west corner) Sportsmen's Park, a wildlife preserve and recreation area. If you are NEAR such a location, you are near both food and water. Having a shelter INSIDE the park puts you at the mercy of over-zealous park rangers. That, I don't like.

The Raccoon River (also prone to flooding) runs near Dawson and through Sportsmen's Park.

The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad tracks are just south of the city. I don't know if they are still in use. Do you? If so, what type cargo (especially hazardous types) do they carry?

Like I have said in the past, safety is a relative concept. It may be safer in Dawson, Iowa, for the sake of my article's scenario, but is a shelter near a potentially flooding river and a railroad track that carries hazardous cargo really the safest spot you could find?


It could be that this 30-1/2 mile trip took you from 3 to 6 hours of driving time. In California or the north-east corridor of America, this would be considered a SHORT TIME.


This article is designed to get you to think about potential hazards along any bug out route in America. I'm not picking on Iowa, I've never been there. I'm sure it's a very nice state. It's not called the "Heartland" for nothing. But, after a lot of map study on the area, the "Heartland of America" has its' problems too. If you live in the overly-crowded east or west coast areas of the country, good luck. Your route of travel will be exhaustingly long and you face uncountable problems in your travels.

My thanks to MapQuest who doesn't know a thing about what I'm doing. I hope they notice the increased interest in Des Moines, Iowa.

P.S. To end our hypothetical disaster, the Department of Homeland Security has issued an "All Clear" for the area. The "disaster" turned out to be an over-active bug sprayer used on the golf course to kill bugs. They turned off the sprayer and all is well. GO HOME. All the bugs are gone.